Join, Participate and Discover New Flowers and Friends
EVERY SERIOUS ORCHID HOBBYIST should seek out and become an active member of their local orchid society. From the moment I walked into my first meeting, I was impressed by the vitality of the group and the myriad activities under way prior to the start of the business meeting.
Near the door was the society librarian’s table where you picked up a name tag. The librarian was busy checking out books to members. In my brief perusal, I found that the library was remarkably complete with old as well as newer titles that were available to members for a month’s loan, with renewal possible if no one else was waiting to borrow the book. I was surprised to learn later that the society’s historian also had a small library of more valuable tomes that could be used for reference, but were not to be taken away. In total, the society’s combined library on orchid topics was unquestionably more complete than that of the city library and rivaled the selection of orchid titles you might expect to find at the library of your nearest botanic garden. The same table held membership applications to join the society, so I filled one out and turned it in; there were even American Orchid Society membership brochures and applications available there too.
Across the room a member was selling chances on plants to be raffled later in the evening. While gambling laws in some states prohibit such activities, I learned that these particular orchids were labeled and promoted as study plants, and were usually provided by the evening’s speaker. Members who took them home were encouraged to bring them back when they came into flower so that other members could learn from their experience.
A number of people were browsing through the plant offerings on several tables lined up along a long wall. At one, the speaker for the evening was selling plants from her nursery. The prices were quite reasonable, and those who were buying them were receiving plenty of sound advice on their selection and care. At another table a couple of members were selling excess plants from their personal collections, and at yet a third sales table were donated divisions of member’s plants that a volunteer was pricing reasonably — all proceeds to benefit the society.
Perhaps the most impressive activity under way, however, was the impromptu orchid show being as-sembled on tables at the front of the room by members who had brought flowering plants from their collections for the monthly “show-and-tell” segment of the meeting. I, as well as many others, milled around the growing display for a closer look at the colorful variety of orchids coming out from under wraps. That first orchid meeting was on a February evening in Denver, and I was dazzled by the effort that so many had made to transport their flowering plants safely on a chilly night just to share their beauty with their fellow members.
STARTING TIME Soon the president called the meeting to order and welcomed all members and guests. New members and first-time attendees who wished to do so were invited to introduce themselves. Those who did were warmly applauded.
The president made a few brief announcements, and I was interested to hear that there was an event planned two months hence that was just for members who had belonged to the society for less than two years. The newcomer group would meet at the home of one of the society’s most knowledgeable members, tour his greenhouse and get tips on orchid photography. While I was making a note of that date, the president introduced the chair for the upcoming orchid show, which was about a month away. The chair passed around a clipboard with sign-up opportunities for various show activities. The members’ preview party on the evening before the opening of the show sounded to me like a particularly good opportunity to get to know some fellow members better, as well as to see the exhibits at their freshest and have an early look at the orchid sales tables.
SHARING Show-and-tell was the next activity on the evening’s agenda. In turn, the members who had brought their beautiful flowering orchids were offered the opportunity to step to the front and talk briefly about their plants. Most shared some cultural tips or interesting anecdote. I think this was my favorite part of the meeting. I learned of an interesting array of orchids I could try to grow at home, discovered a bit about the personality and interests of some of the members of the society and appreciated the pride of accomplishment the members felt as they shared a bit of their orchid-growing experience with others. I found out that, at our society, those who bring in these plants receive a free ticket on a chance to win one of the study plants. Most orchid societies have some variation of the show-and-tell activity; at some societies these orchids are juried.
The program for the evening followed. The speaker was flown in for the meeting from across the country to speak on her particular area of orchid expertise. It was a good program and I learned that the profits from the society’s fundraising activities are primarily used to bring the best speakers possible to the organization’s meetings.
Following the applause for the speaker, the president wrapped up the meeting and invited everyone to enjoy the refreshments, shop for orchids, check out a book and hurry to acquire their last chances for the study plants before the drawing. I found it to be an unexpectedly fast-paced and fun evening, and was certainly not what I had envisioned of a typical plant society. In addition to the ten meetings a year, the group hosts two orchid shows, field trips, tours, orchid auctions and other social events.
GETTING INVOLVED Certainly every orchid society is different. As with most group activities, clashes in personalities and politics can occasionally come into play, but I think you will find that the group’s shared passion for orchids propels most societies enthusiastically past these problems. There always is another orchid to try to flower and another orchid show to plan, and orchid growers are indeed a generally optimistic lot.
Sometimes first-time meeting attendees find the jargon of orchid growers a bit intimidating. This can be true even for those who are relatively familiar with the world of gardening and horticulture. If this is the case, I encourage you to persist and keep attending those meetings. Identify fellow newcomers and pal with them. Ask the society’s beginners’ program chair to arrange a special class on orchid nomenclature and terminology for those like yourself. I guarantee that it will gradually begin to make sense and you will find an exciting new world will open up for you through your orchid society.
If you have no idea how to find your nearest orchid society, check the AOS Web site (www.aos.org) under local societies or look in the Affiliated Societies section of the AOS Orchid Source Directory. Not only are you likely to meet new friends who share your interest, but your local society of fellow orchid growers is the best single resource for sound advice and techniques on orchid growing in your region or locality.